Beat the Champ
Reviewed by: Brian Roser
Is this supposed to be funny? It’s about professional wrestling, so my first thought was that yes, it was. The second track, however, is about his unironic childhood love of the sport, or rather the sports-related form of entertainment. The Mountain Goats don’t sugar coat it. Wrestling is scripted, there are prefabricated heroes and villains for whom you’re supposed to root for or boo. Then again, he takes these pathetic people and paints their portraits in very sympathetic colors. Wrestling isn’t just done by faceless meatheads in masks; he calls some out by name: Bull Ramos, Chavo Guerrero and Bruiser Brody. When describing the stabbing of the latter, the song features my favorite line from the album: “The sky goes dark and there I am, climbing down the Hertzsprung–Russell diagram”. The diagram in question plots the brightness of stars and incidentally looks a bit like spots of blood after a stab wound. Don’t worry, I had to look it up too.
The Mountain Goats started with John Darnielle, but has since grown to include Peter Hughes on bass and Jon Wurster on drums. Darnielle started by recording his first album on a boombox. Kids if you don’t know what that is, ask your parents. Now, fourteen albums later, he has done pretty well for himself. The Mountain Goats have appeared on both Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Fallon. His music has likewise been on both Weeds and The Walking Dead.
I’m not sure what to do with this album. The line “I’m going to stab you in the eye with a foreign object, bop badada bop bop bada” can’t be intended to be taken seriously. On the other hand, the telling of Bull Ramos’s amputation, kidney failure and blindness isn’t exactly comedy. Can something be both darkly funny and pathetically sad at the same time? Well, I guess there’s professional wrestling…